The study of coastal geomorphology at Melbourne dates back over 100 years. It is one of the longest continual running coastal geomorphology laboratories in the world.


Melbourne has been a centre of ground breaking research on coastal geomorphology since the early 20th Century producing new knowledge on sea level change, climate change and variability, coastal hazards, engineering and landscape evolution. In fact during the mid 20th Century the term “Melbourne School” was applied to the body of work being produced from Victoria coast though some of the researchers emphasised the independence of their activities.


One of the early workers was John Thomas Jutson (1874 – 1959). Jutson was in fact a practising solicitor but had been employed as a field geologist by the Geological Survey of Western Australia from 1911 – 1918. He was fascinated by the coast and conducted much of the early research onto shore platform formation in Victoria and also in Sydney, publishing scientific papers on the subject from the 1930’s to 1950’s.


Appointed in 1932 to The University of Melbourne as a lecturer in Geology, Edwin Sherbon Hills (1906-1986) was a geomorphologist who had a wide ranging interesting in geosciences. He published the book: The physiography of Victoria : an introduction to geomorphology (1st ed). (Whitcombe & Tombs, Melbourne, 1940) as well as conducting extensive research on the shore platforms of Victoria from the 1940’s to 1970’s. This research was conducted with serving as the Dean of Science (1947 – 1948) and being appointed the University’s first Deputy Vice-Chancellor (1962 – 1971). (See here for further biographical details).


Working in parallel with Hills and Jutson was Edmund Dwen Gill (1908 – 1986). Gill was associated with the National Museum of Victoria from 1948 and was the Assistant Director (1964) and Deputy Director (1969). He was a prolific published having produced over 400 papers. His work on shore platforms is extensive, with many debates occurring between him and his contemporaries on the evolution of rocky coasts and the processes that drive his formation. His legacy of research continues today with erosion monitoring sites established in the late 1970’s still being monitored by the Coastal Lab today – the longest continually monitored sites in the world where the original erosion pins are still in place. (See here for further biographical details.)


A B Edwards and George Baker were contemporaries of the aforementioned researchers who actively contributed to the debate on the origin of shore platforms and coastal dynamics during the mid 20th Century while based in the Geology Department at Melbourne University. Edwards’ papers from the 1940’s and 1950’s are still widely cited while Baker conducted many studies including some of the early work on reclamation of the Brighton shoreline.


In the mid 1960’s coastal research also expanded into the Geography Department, where the lab is now solely based, with the appointment of Eric C. F. Bird in 1966. Eric remained at Melbourne until his retirement in 1992 and is still an active researcher who currently holds an Honorary Research Fellow position in Geography. He has been a prolific researcher whose text books are still standard texts for undergraduate students around the world. He has published over 15 books, including: The Coast of Victoria (Melbourne University Press, 1994) and Coastal Geomorphology (Wiley Interscience, 2nd ed, 2008). His latest books on Beach renourishment and Coastal Cliffs (Springer Brief Series) were published in 2015.


A new era of quantitative measurement was started in the Coastal Lab with the appointment of Wayne J. Stephenson in 1997. Wayne’s focus on shore platforms dynamics included measurement of microerosion of platform surfaces and quantification of wave dynamics across their surface. Work which is still continuing today. He left Melbourne for the University of Otago in 2009 and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow in the School.


Since 2010 the Coastal Lab has been headed by David M. Kennedy, when he returned to Australia from almost a decade based at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. David has continued the strong focus on rocky coast that has characterised the research excellence of the coastal lab for almost a century. The Lab’s research also now encompasses dunes and barrier systems, beach erosion, drowned landforms on the continental shelf as well as estuarine environments. Rapid advances in technology have seen the Lab now utilise aerial laser and drone surveys as a critical component of its research both in Victoria, wider Australia and globally.